Winter 2016

Got Connections?

Dental Central website promotes community engagement

By Helene Ragovin

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The Smile Squad, a student group that promotes oral health awareness throughout the Boston area, used Dental Central to solicit volunteers for its booth at Tufts Community Day on the Medford/Somerville campus. Photo: Evan Sayles

Along with classroom work and clinical practice, dental students are encouraged to engage in community service. A joint effort between the School of Dental Medicine and the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service at Tufts is helping to make service activities more accessible and to promote civic engagement.

Photo: Evan Sayles

Photo: Evan Sayles

The centerpiece of the collaboration is a website called Dental Central, launched in 2014 as the go-to place for information on volunteer opportunities, group activities and other community-focused extracurricular events. Student groups are encouraged to use the site to list events or calls for volunteers and to post photos and follow-ups afterward. Individual students are also invited to write about their experiences. Recently, for example, Dental Central informed students about activities as diverse as yoga classes from the Health and Wellness Club; an Asian Health Symposium sponsored by the Tufts Clinical and Translational Science Institute; volunteer opportunities at a women’s shelter and a presentation on licensure from the American Student Dental Association.

“The operative word is connection,” says Nancy Marks, the dental school’s community-service learning coordinator. The website is a place for students to connect with each other, with Tufts’ other schools and with the broader community, she says.

Each week, the dental school community receives a Dental Central email newsletter detailing upcoming events. Some items are submitted by students, who can use a form on the Dental Central website, and Marks culls others. There are also pages on the website devoted to each of the four dental classes and to international outreach work students are involved in, such as the long-standing service trips.

An advisory board of dental students, faculty and staff, along with staff from Tisch College, oversees Dental Central, and students maintain the site. Innovations, such as an Instagram feed from events and plans for a mobile app, evolved from student suggestions.

“The thing for students is they are getting barraged with so much stuff,” Marks says. Dental Central is intended to be a way to manage that. “It started out as more of a billboard, but now it’s becoming more of an organizing tool.” A recent survey of students showed one of the most-used features on the site is the calendar, which allows them to sign up online for activities.

Dental Central “shows that community service is not some sort of one-off that’s over to the side,” Marks says.

Contact Helene Ragovin at helene.ragovin@tufts.edu.

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